West: Family tradition
World history may be doomed to repeat itself, and family histories are no exception. Case in point: When George Cecil and his son, Jack, decided Biltmore Park, their Buncombe County residential development started in 1990, needed an urban town center, they toured Market Square in Lake Forest, Ill., Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and Disney’s Celebration Town Center in Florida. In the end, the duo behind Asheville-based Biltmore Farms concluded their best option was aping Biltmore Village, the 19th-century commercial and social center that George’s grandfather, George Vanderbilt, constructed at the base of his massive Biltmore Estate.
The new project started in 2006, when Biltmore Farms secured $200 million in financing to build Biltmore Park Town Square, the largest private development project in western North Carolina with nearly 600,000 square feet of retail and office space, plus 200 apartments and condos. The “doom” arrived two years later when the U.S. economy cratered. “We were just starting to turn dirt here,” says George, 91. “It was a question of: Do we stop now or are we going to — I hate to use the phrase ‘take a gamble’— but are we going to move forward?”
Biltmore Farms started as a dairy operation within the larger Biltmore estate. But George and his brother, William, split their inheritance in 1976. William got the house. George got the dairy and about 4,000 acres that would become, in part, Biltmore Park. In short, Biltmore Farms is a family business. Jack’s five siblings, as well as the next generation, all have money invested in Town Square. “We all made the decision to move forward,” Jack says. “We all said, ‘Let’s keep going.’”
The Cecils’ bet paid off because, once the economy began to rebound, they had diverse properties — hotel, office, retail and residential — ready for tenants. Now, a decade after starting the project, Town Square’s retail space is 90% leased and the office side is 95% occupied. “More is on the way,” says Jack, president of the company since 1992. “We have some land around it where we’d like to continue the urban village concept by adding more offices, residential and retail. This is just the beginning of what it could blossom into over decades.” Or, as the Cecils call it, generations.
Leaders of The Collider want to make sure that Asheville is known globally for more than great beer. Part business, part co-working space and part event venue, the nonprofit center that opened in March is the passion of Mack Pearsall, a retired lawyer and civic activist who envisioned a place where businesses and scientists could collaborate to develop products and services to solve environmental problems related to climate change. Pearsall, 79, spent most of his career overseeing his family’s farms, hotels and auto dealerships in Rocky Mount before moving to Asheville. He saw an opportunity in the mountain town, home of the national archives of climate science for 65 years. About 400 scientists and technologists work at the National Centers for Environmental Information, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located near The Collider in downtown Asheville.
Based on the top floor of the four-story Wells Fargo building overlooking Pritchard Park, The Collider has 6,000 square feet of renovated space, including co-working desks, private offices, a lounge and conference rooms. A 2,500-square-foot technology theater seats as many as 190 people. Memberships start at $150 a month, which includes up to 10 visits. About a dozen companies and organizations had joined as of mid-April.
Bill Dean was “semi-retired” when The Collider was searching for a chief executive officer. Dean had moved to North Carolina in 1999 to launch Piedmont Triad Research Park, now Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, in Winston-Salem after serving as a director of a research park in his native Huntsville, Ala. He’s been involved with numerous groups related to research parks and business incubators. “It’s in my blood,” he says. “I’ve done it all my life.”
Asheville is ideal for collecting and housing weather data because of its location, far from an ocean or major city. There are at least 16 climate-services organizations in the Asheville area, according to The Collider spokeswoman Kathi Petersen. Asheville is also a good fit for the industry because many residents value the beauty of the natural environment, Dean says. Because Asheville is such an attractive place to live, he’s fielded calls from Texas to California from people interested in becoming involved with The Collider.
“Asheville has the opportunity to bring this to the forefront,” Dean says.
ASHEVILLE – HomeTrust Bancshares increased the size of its board of directors from 10 to 13. New directors are Laura Kendall, managing director of Aurora Management Partners; Richard “Stick” Williams, former vice president of corporate community affairs at Duke Energy; and former First Charter CEO Robert “Bob” James Jr.
ASHEVILLE – UNC Asheville will open River Arts Makers Place (RAMP), a lab for students enrolled in art, computer science, media and engineering classes. The 100,000-square-foot facility will include 3-D modeling and printing equipment and metal-fabrication and woodworking spaces. The project will be funded with $1 million in grants.
ASHEVILLE – Deschutes Brewery selected Roanoke, Va., over Asheville for its East Coast brewery. Buncombe County had paid $6.8 million for
a 137-acre property to lure the Bend, Ore.-based company. The county now plans to sell the property.